17 Comments

Summary:

Google and Apple’s very public, very messy ongoing lover’s spat is obviously not doing either company many favors in the media. Apple looks to be taking steps to ensure that should it need to, it can go without the do-everything leading Internet search provider. To that […]

pushpinGoogle and Apple’s very public, very messy ongoing lover’s spat is obviously not doing either company many favors in the media. Apple looks to be taking steps to ensure that should it need to, it can go without the do-everything leading Internet search provider.

To that end, it’s finally been confirmed this week by ComputerWorld that Apple did indeed acquire Google Maps competitor Placebase in July of this year. Former Placebase CEO Jaron Waldman is now part of the “Geo Team” at Apple, which suggests that the company was acquired so that Cupertino could work on its own, in-house Google Maps alternative.

Our own sister site GigaOM ran a profile of Placebase back in May 2008. It detailed the way in which Placebase’s PushPin product was able to stay afloat and compete with Google Maps, which offered its services completely free of charge. Placebase offered white label solutions for a price.

PushPin, and the follow-up, PolicyMap, which expanded PushPin’s features, competed by offering users the ability to layer on commercial and public data sets, including things like home sales, crime, demographics, employment, etc. Developers could also add their own data sets using a simple API. All of which made it infinitely more useful for business applications, and open to some incredibly creative uses, too.

Acquiring the one company that showed signs of being able to do what Google has done, only better and with more possibilities for third-party developer expansion, does not just seem like something done because of idle fancy. Apple’s motivation was probably twofold: First, it has an alternative in case things continue to go sour with the relationship between the two Silicon Valley heavyweights. Second, if the FCC forces a wedge between the two because it finds their relationship noncompetitive, Apple still has a back-up in place to prevent a major feature loss for iPhone users.

Of course, the loss of Google Maps on the iPhone would have far-reaching complications, especially considering the number of apps that now sport direct tie-ins with Maps functionality. To grant developers access to the Maps app in iPhone OS 3.0, and then swap it out for an Apple-branded version of PushPin would require a massive overhaul from a development standpoint. Will Apple really alienate its developer base with such a risky move?

Then again, with over 2 billion downloads and 85,000 apps in the App Store, Apple truly is in the driver’s seat. It has made absolutely sure that the value proposition of being an iPhone developer is apparent to everyone, and as such, it can probably afford to demand some code revisions if it does make a major change.

We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, but I’m still fairly confident that Apple will only enact the Placebase alternative if the FCC forces a decisive split between Cupertino and Google. Even if the two are having some disagreements on other fronts, a voluntary end to the relationship just doesn’t make good business sense.

  1. “Of course, the loss of Google Maps on the iPhone would have far-reaching complications, especially considering the number of apps that now sport direct tie-ins with Maps functionality. To grant developers access to the Maps app in iPhone OS 3.0, and then swap it out for an Apple-branded version of PushPin would require a massive overhaul from a development standpoint.”

    I doubt it would cause many problems at all. As far as I am aware, all the Maps technology is called by standard APIs in the iPhone SDK which – if they are correctly defined – are not tied in anyway to the underlying technology (this is the point of an API in the first place). The application requests a Geo location and a map display, the MapKit view supplies it. If the API is correctly defined, Apple can swap in any mapping technology it likes and all API-compliant applications would switch “automagically” without any headaches or recompiles….

    I could be wrong, but that is normally the point of APIs. To abstract away the technicalities into a “black box” with known accessors…

    Share
    1. This.

      Haven’t looked at the iPhone mapping APIs in a while, but I doubt there is anything Google-y about the way that the apps tie into the Maps service.

      All they would need to do is make sure they’re reproducing the same functionality, and it *should* slip right in.

      Share
    2. That’s a point I make all of the time. There is a startup for everything these days. There is always a missing link that you could save millions by partnering with someone instead of doing it yourself.

      However, what you lose is assurance that the partnership will last.

      Apple has actually built Google Maps in to their computers and phones so deeply that it would actually break applications and key features of the Mac & iPhone OS to remove it or pull the plug.

      This was a stupid decision for Apple. In Mail I can click on an address and view it in Google Maps or I can see where my friends are on Foursquare for the iPhone using a Google MAP API that Apple puts in Xcode. This is dumb. Because now Apple is eating out of Google’s hands because they now hold the key.

      Sure I’m exaggerating but I hate when companies rely heavily on unproven or small time startups for long term partnerships. Yes google is difference but not really.

      Share
  2. The only developers that need to be worried about overhauling their code are web designers trying to make it as iPhone developers and use javascript and the google maps api – if you are a developer and actually program Objective C and use Mapkit nothing will break.

    Share
  3. PS Take a look – I would rather have this any day http://www.policymap.com/
    google maps was never this good – see demo.

    Adam above do some research nothing is going to break it is only going to get better and it looks like they have indeed proven themselves.

    Share
  4. What about Youtube ….

    Share
  5. And more importantly – what about Europe and other parts of the world?

    Share
  6. The Youtube app won’t be effected unless google blocks all safari users. It’s just streaming media in an app window. The Mapkit and Google API info above are something totally separate and work on a fundamental level of the iPhone SDK.

    Share
  7. From what i see of the demo, this sort of information would be useful to such a tiny percentage of people. It’s general features for the layman equates to Google Maps’ offerings.
    And I bet none of this policy data is available outside the US so what is the point?

    Share
  8. See http://www.pushpin.com/api/1.3/docs/findplace.html

    then go back to the API – you don’t have to do anything with policy data you can do anything you would like just like Google maps it is an example…

    API is here: http://www.pushpin.com/api/1.3/docs/index.html

    see all of the other examples – dare I say google it?

    Share
  9. Heh… Apple performed a seamless transition to Intel that didn’t break any legacy applications during the transition (thanks to Rosetta) years after OS X was created….and you think that swapping out the underlying Maps provider is something Apple forgot to code their SDK to handle? You must be joking.

    To think that Apple didn’t plan for possibly using other Maps technology is pretty naive.

    Share
  10. [...] Maybe thats why Apple bought their own mapping company. [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post